PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Who would have thought that D.A. Points’ back spams could have caused hours of heartburn for Brian Harman and forced PGA Tour officials into unprecedented waters?
Yet that is how a bizarre story unfolded on the first day of The Players Championship, a field that lost Points as a withdrawal but gained Harman as first alternate.
Sounds simple, eh?
It was anything but, because it took a decision to fit Harman as a single between the morning and afternoon waves at TPC Sawgrass’ Stadium Course to make it work.
In fact, “in my 31 years on the golf tour, I can never remember a player withdrawing right before he’s supposed to play,” said Mark Russell, the PGA Tour’s vice president of rules and competitions.
Yet right after Points had been announced by the first-tee starter as the second member of the 8:39 group, he felt something in his back, turned, and said he couldn’t go. According to Russell, the third member of the group, Robert Garrigus, then hit. It wasn’t until Garrigus and Carl Pettersson were walking down the fairway that a volunteer walking along asked about Points and one of the players said he had withdrawn.
That seemingly served as official notification that Points wasn’t going to play, yet it took several minutes to circulate to those who administer the tournament – valuable time that proved costly to Harman.
“Very unusual situation,” Russell said. “It happened very quickly. We didn’t have time to react.”
“I don’t think he could have done anything differently,” said Points’ agent, Brad Buffoni. “He was actually fine, going through his normal pre-round routine, but 25 minutes before his tee time, he tweaked his back. He ran to the fitness trailer and did everything he could to try and play.
“If there is anything negative his way, I don’t believe it’s fair.”
Certainly nothing negative came Points’ way from Harman, who felt fortunate that the veteran didn’t attempt to hit a shot. Then, there wouldn’t have been any chance for an alternate.
“I wasn’t shocked. I thought it was the fair thing to do,” Harman said of the decision to include him in the field.
After shooting 1-over 73, Harman could smile, though he said, “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little shook up” by the way the morning unfolded.
Points’ last-second WD at first was bad news for Harman, a rookie who had been on site since 7 a.m., just waiting for the possibility that he might tee it up in his first Players Championship. Having hit balls and watched most of the morning wave head to the first and 10th tees, Harman and his caddie, John Davenport, walked a short distance to a dining area beneath the TPC Sawgrass clubhouse. Having checked in earlier that morning, Harman advised officials that he would be in the dining area and that he had his cell phone turned on.
“Brian Harman had done everything that we had asked him to do,” Russell said.
But even that wasn’t enough, because when Davenport took a break from their pingpong match to go outside and have a cigarette, he ran into a rules official and heard that news about Points. “He said, ‘I just heard some news, and you’re not going to be happy,’ ” Harman said.
Understandably distraught, Harman understood the strange set of circumstances and kept his composure.
“I’m handling it as well as I can,” he said.
Of course, at the time, Harman was clinging to hope that officials would find a way out of the sticky situation – and a short time later, he discovered they had. Their decision was definitely unprecedented, “but I know we’ve done the right thing in handling this.”
The decision was made to place Harman into the field as first alternate, giving him a tee time five minutes before the first afternoon pairing off the first tee, meaning he went alone at 12:20. (Harman will go at 8:50 a.m. Friday, moving into a slot originally held by Paul Casey, who withdrew after nine holes.)
While acknowledging that he had never been involved in a situation like this, Russell emphasized that it didn’t involve the Rules of Golf as much as “it was a protocol situation.” Points simply didn’t provide officials enough time to notify Harman and get the left-hander to the first tee, and the unfortunate victim was Harman.
“Once we got our heads together and thought about it,” Russell said, they decided Harman deserved his spot in the field, replacing Points. That it was done in an unconventional manner, as a single, didn’t bother Russell, nor did it ruffle Jeff Hall, managing director of rules and competitions with the U.S. Golf Association.
“They talked with us, and I talked with Mark Russell,” Hall said. “We all reached the same conclusion. It was a proper decision.”
Points’ playing competitors agreed.
“I think it was the right decision,” Pettersson said. “I know he was on the rounds. I’m fine with that.”
“As soon as we finished the (first) hole, we thought Brian was done,” Garrigus said. “But they did something and he’s able to play, which is good. They made the right call.”
With just a little time to grab a bite to eat and get to the first tee after receiving official notification, Harman couldn’t comment on the good news. Earlier, however, he had talked of his desire to play in the PGA Tour’s flagship event, and he didn’t have any problem with news that Hunter Haas had tried to play through a sore back, withdrawing after just three holes.
“It’s the Players Championship. You’ve got to give it a go,” Harman said. “I’d have to be in a wheelchair for me not to play.”
Of course, he didn’t need a wheelchair for his 12:20 tee time; all that was required as a set of circumstances that had everyone shaking their heads, because they had never come across them before.
True, Points had run to the fitness trailer a half-hour before his tee time, concerned that his back felt tight, but to suggestions that the veteran should have given more notice or perhaps tapped Harman on the shoulder and provided a heads-up, Russell shook his head.
“I don’t want to throw D.A. under the bus,” he said. “D.A. was within his rights. He withdrew before he played a shot.”
Said Hall: “There are always cases when the timing of things impact situations. Sometimes, at qualifiers, you have two courses. You need an alternate at Course A, but he’s at Course B. The timing of when a player withdraws runs the gamut.”
Russell pointed out that in the case of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, where three courses are used, sometimes officials have to use discretion when placing a last-second alternate because he has to be allowed time to get to the course in question.
“It’s basic protocol,” Russell said.